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UFC 288 Preview – Sterling v Cejudo

The UFC returns to Newark, New Jersey for the UFC 288 pay-per-view. The card is stacked as the headliner features a bantamweight title fight between current champion Aljamain Sterling who will be fighting in his backyard and the returning former double champ Henry Cejudo. The co-main event features a title eliminator welterweight encounter between Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad.

With plenty of other great fights on the card, let’s take a look at all of the action taking place this weekend and who should come out on top in their respective matchups.

UFC 288 Prelim Card 

Bantamweights kick off the action as Daniel Santos clashes with Johnny Munoz. Santos is expected to emerge the victor in this one. 

Next on the prelims sees Joseph Holmes meet Claudio Ribieiro in a middleweight bout. Expect Ribiero to come out on top. 

Flyweights are also in action as Rafael Estevam faces Zhalgas Zhumagulov. Estevam should edge this and maintain his undefeated record. 

Phil Hawes battles Ikram Aliskerov in a middleweight encounter. All signs point to a win for Alikserov. 

Braxton Smith collides with Parker Porter in a heavyweight matchup. The more experienced Porter is favored in this contest. 

Women's strawweights are also in action as Marina Rodriguez clashes with Virna Jandiroba. This should be a competitive battle with Rodriguez just about coming out on top. 

Khaos Williams returns when he faces Rolando Bedoya in a welterweight collision. Expect a big win for Williams with a knockout being likely. 

Kennedy Nzechukwu faces Devin Clark in a light heavyweight bout. Expect Nzechukwu to make it three wins in a row. 

The featured prelim sees the always exciting Drew Dober take on Matt Frevola in a lightweight encounter. This should be an entertaining matchup, but it’s hard to look past the more experienced Dober that has won his last three bouts by stoppage.  The “Steamrolla” is also bringing a two fight winning streak into the cage and this should be fireworks to lead into the main card.  

UFC 288 Main Card 

Kron Gracie (5-1) v Charles Jourdain (13-6-1) 

It’s always exciting and nostalgic for a Gracie to be on a UFC card. The main card opens up with a potential featherweight barnburner as Kron Gracie faces the exciting Charles Jourdain. Gracie will be making his return for the first time in nearly four years. After enjoying a first-round submission win over Alex Caceres in his UFC debut, Gracie would lose a decision in a three-round war to Cub Swanson in October 2019. 

Jourdain, meanwhile, is on a losing streak after dropping his last two fights. He was outpointed by Shane Burgos by majority decision and most recently by Nathaniel Wood via unanimous decision in September. However, oddsmakers are heavily backing him against Gracie and the latter’s inactivity and lack of overall MMA experience are likely playing a big role in that. 

Movsar Evloev (16-0) v Diego Lopes (21-5) 

More featherweights are in action as Movsar Evloev takes on Diego Lopes. Evloev was originally set to face Bryce Mitchell; however, Mitchell had to pull out leading to Lopes stepping in on short notice. Although Lopes is experienced and has a respectable MMA record, it’s no easy feat making your UFC debut on short notice, let alone against a dominant, unbeaten Russian in Evloev. 

Evloev is 6-0 in the UFC and is coming off unanimous decision wins over Hakeem Dawodu and Dan Ige. Beating Mitchell would have elevated him up the featherweight ranks and put him potentially one win away from entering title contention. But with that said, Evloev will be happy to fight someone after having last competed in June and getting his seventh Octagon win in a row. 

Jessica Andrade (24-10) v Yan Xiaonan (16-3, 1NC) 

Former champion Jessica Andrade takes on Yan Xiaonan in a women’s strawweight battle. Andrade will be looking to return to the win column after getting submitted by the red-hot Erin Blanchfield in a flyweight bout in February. Prior to that, she racked up a three-fight winning streak, but will be making her return to strawweight for this contest. 

Xiaonan stands in her way. The Chinese contender recently returned to the win column after a majority decision win over Mackenzie Dern. It snapped a two-fight losing streak following defeats to Carla Esparza and Marina Rodriguez. “Fury” will have to keep her distance by using her jab to stay alive in this one, but usually the Brazilian finds a way to get inside for damage.  Andrade should get her hand raised here. 

Belal Muhammad (22-3, 1NC) v Gilbert Burns (22-5) 

A short-notice five-round welterweight fight between Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns co-headlines the UFC 288 pay-per-view event. Originally, it was supposed to be a lightweight fight between Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush before it got postponed with Muhammad and Burns stepping in and saving the card. As far as both fighters are concerned, they believe a win should earn them the next title shot.

Muhammad, in particular, is undefeated in his last nine outings and is coming off an impressive second-round TKO win over Sean Brady in October. Prior to that, he also outpointed the likes of Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque. For many observers, he should already be getting the next title shot over Colby Covington, but it looks like he will have to get past Burns first. 

Burns is coming off a unanimous decision win over Jorge Masvidal just last month at UFC 287 while he also easily submitted Neil Magny in January. Overall, he is 7-2 at welterweight with his only losses coming to Kamaru Usman and Khamzat Chimaev. A win over Muhammad would certainly all but guarantee a second crack at becoming a welterweight champion.  
Burns has really evolved his style, going for big punches with recklessness, knowing his his grappling and wrestling pedigree are always there if needed. This fight will likely be a striking match, and Gilbert has the edge here.  I like the Brazilian to stop the long winning streak of Muhammad. 

Aljamain Sterling (22-3) v Henry Cejudo (16-2) 

The “King of Cringe” is back!  The main event sees bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling defend his 135-pound crown against the returning former two-weight champion Henry Cejudo. Sterling has garnered much more respect in recent fights -- after controversially winning the bantamweight title off Petr Yan via disqualification, the Long Island native clearly outpointed Yan in their long-awaited rematch.

Sterling would then notch up another title defense when he TKO’d former champion TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October. Although Dillashaw was compromised with a shoulder injury throughout the fight, it was still an impressive showing from Sterling. The “Funkmaster” will now look to add another big name to his resume in the form of Cejudo. 

Olympic wrestling gold medalist Cejudo is returning to action for the first time since retiring in 2020. He defended his bantamweight title at the time with a second-round TKO win over Dominick Cruz. That culminated an impressive run that saw Cejudo defeat Demetrious Johnson to win the flyweight title, defend the belt against Dillashaw, and become a two-weight champion by beating Marlon Moraes for the vacant bantamweight title.

Although it’s been three years since he competed, Cejudo is still regularly training and coaching fighters. The betting odds with many sportsbooks having the fight as a pick ‘em.  

Although Sterling’s striking has improved over the years, this is one fight where his grappling will not be to his advantage.  While the layoff and age are working against Cejuda, the ultimate competitor has a clear path to victory with the wrestling and cardio advantage.  We have seen such grates as GSP and more recently Jon Jones come back after long absences to capture a title, I like a play on Cejudo to do the same! 






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About Ryan O’Leary  

Ryan O’Leary is a veteran mixed martial arts journalist and commentator. The Swedish-based writer is the founder and editor at MMAViking.com, which is the premier source for Nordic mixed martial arts news since 2008. 


V: 1.38.0 All rights reserved. August 2021